21 March 2012

Thoughts on Pixels: Genre or Genre?

The big-bucks in entertainment have recently been putting out more and more "re-imaginations", "reboots", and "re-launches" of old and even ancient franchises, apparently working on the assumption that there is no new IP to be made. This trend first hit movie theatres near you with all sorts of content from the 1960s through 1990s re-made (and often dumbed-down) and newly adapted. Some were more successful (the recent Batman movies), some were less so (the remake of The Thing, anything involving TV-serials turned into feature films decades after the fact), some were downright ridiculous (the board game Battleship as a movie-adaptation?!), but what this post is going to be about is the fact that the remake-wave has hit gaming.

Now, video-gaming has always been a category of entertainment where sequels were generally like re-makes of their predecessors: Basically the same game but with better visuals, ideally some tweaks in game-play and some furthered story for the player to follow. This has mostly been the case because there are two genres that any given video-game is part of, both of them having nothing to do with one-another: The genre of game-play and the genre of story. And that's exactly what some of the modern re-makes fail to understand.

Let's take a look at the recent "remake" of Syndicate for example: You have an isometric-viewpoint tactical squad-based real-time strategy title from 1992, remade into a first-person shooter. Well. The story-genre is still dystopian cyberpunk science fiction, I guess, but the gameplay-genre was completely turned around. Now I won't say that the new Syndicate is bad, because it isn't (though it's not the type of shooter I enjoy, as it is a bit too linear for my taste), but the makers obviously failed to see what the original game was all about. In the early '90s, most games were not about their story. They were about gameplay. Did anyone really care what happened after the events of Doom and thus played Doom 2? Anyone? No. You wanted to shoot more monsters, possibly with different weapons.

The thing about using a franchise-name in cases like Syndicate is weird. The people who played the original Syndicate really aren't your target-audience, as that was a different genre of game and they are a bit grown-up now. Also the story of the first one isn't really furthered in the new game, as it is basically a completely remade world with some nods to the original game in corporation names and the design of a single hovercar seen in one sequence. Your target-audience won't notice that, I doubt most people who have played the original, like I have, do.

I have the nagging suspicion that the thought behind using an old franchise-name in video-gaming comes from marketing-people and/or money-givers who don't really understand the medium. "It works like that with movies, so it will work with video games too" seems to be the logic behind it. That's stupid. Syndicate would have had a totally different reception if it hadn't been a genre-defying "re-imagination" of a classic. It could have been marketed as "the dark side of cyberpunk", competing with the new Deus Ex (which is a rather successful successor to the original game) for the futuristic power-fantasy market of first person shooters. It can't be that hard to make up a new fanchise for that. They pretty much did that and slapped some labels on it.

The genre-changing needs to stop. I have nothing against exploring a well thought-out world more in different types of video games but, let's be honest here, most games do not have that good of a storyline. Imagine a world where Doom would be re-made as a point-and-click adventure. We do not need an expanded universe for Pacman.

Bonus: Some quick thoughts on the other recent and near-future re-makes of old gaming-franchises:

UFO: Enemy Unknown (XCOM): There is that abysmal class-based ego-shooter, which I will ignore. There is also the tactical remake, which looks promising enough. It is still a strategy-game, at least.

Jagged Alliance: If you want more detailed squad-based strategy with destructible terrain and better graphics than the old JA2 had to offer, I suggest you find yourself a copy of Silent Storm and its expansion Sentinels in a bargain-bin somewhere. No fog of war? What are they thinking?!

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